Release notes: the Luck of Eden Hall
Sense 3b of the noun luck refers to ‘An object or (occasionally) person on which the prosperity of a family or community is believed to depend.’ The most famous object of this type was the Luck of Eden Hall, an oriental glass cup, made in the 14th century and belonging to the Musgrave family of Eden Hall, Cumbria, England. Family legend had it that so long as the cup remained in the hands of the Musgraves, they would prosper. The cup’s fame extended beyond the Musgrave family, becoming the subject of stories and songs.
From a lexicographical point of view the cup is interesting as it shows how the word ‘luck’, which refers to an abstract quality, has become applied to something concrete. OED’s earliest quotation for this use of ‘luck’ was from an 18th-century ballad which describes an evening of drunkenness among a group of noblemen, whose number include Sir Christopher Musgrave. It begins:
God prosper long from being broke
The Luck of Eden-hall.
A doleful Drinking-bout I sing,
There lately did befal.
When revising an item, we are always interested in tracing the earliest use of a particular word or sense. An article in the Burlington Magazine about the Luck of Eden Hall, referred to its appearance in the 1677 will of Sir Philip Musgrave. It was on the trail of this lead that one of our library researchers contacted the Cumbria Archive Centre, where the will is kept.
We were in luck. The archives centre confirmed that the word does appear in the will and sent us an image of the passage in question, from which the sense’s first quotation is taken.
So where is the cup now? Well, it was loaned to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1926 and now forms part of its permanent collection. Eden Hall was demolished some eight years later, suggesting that there might, after all, be some truth to the old story.
The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.